Saturday, September 22, 2007
Adolescent Exploitation -- A Necessary Evil?
Earlier this week, Class of 2010 point guard Kendall Marshall committed to the University of North Carolina. If you've never heard of Marshall, he was named the number one-ranked fifth-grader in his class in 2002. In a related story, my little brother was named the number one ranked NBA Live player in his sixth-grade class.
As a UNC fan, I'm definitely excited that Coach Roy Williams has lined up more future talent to lead his program into the next decade (He got a commitment from '08 guard Larry Drew, Jr.). As a basketball fan, I'm still excited, but a little concerned about the fact that a kid just entering his sophomore season in high school has already committed to a university, which is ultimately one of the toughest decisions in life, in the same vein as the girl you marry and "Beyonce or Alicia Keys?".
Now, I'm not going to get all conservative sports media on you. I recognize that their is huge demand for talented prep players in a growing market filled with coaches all over the country who would give a lung for a five-star recruit.
College basketball recruiting has turned into a cradle-rocking spectacle, with the best (read: biggest names) players go to the coaches who can get them the earliest. A part of me recognizes this as a necessary process that is needed to keep the top programs as contenders and the mid-level schools on the rise.
But a huge part of me can't help but think if this is hurting the kids way more than helping them. A few things in particular bother me:
1) How young is too young?
In June, 14-year old Ryan Boatwright committed to USC, a few days before he even picked which high school he was going to attend. Add to the fact that the term "committment" means absolutely nada to a 14-16 year old. USC missed out on one of the most important recruits in school history when Brandon Jennings reneged on his verbal commitment and committed to Arizona. In the ESPN article above, Boatwright admitted that North Carolina was his favorite school and "didn't know" what he would do if Roy Williams offered a scholarship to UNC. Which leads to my second concern....
2) What if the kid isn't as good as advertised?
Do you, as a coach, rescind on a scholarship offer you made to a kid in 2007 if he isn't the player you expected him to be (or the player he was advertised) in 2012 (if you're still there)? It is a huge risk offered a spot to a young player so far away from his college arrival. Injuries, lack of focus, or lack of skill progression can make an early offer look extremely bad if the player doesn't turn out to be as spectacular.
It may not be as big a risk in Marshall's case, seeing that he is at least a sophomore and just came off leading his team (Archbishop O'Connell in Arlington, VA) to the state championship game, where they lost to 2008 UNC recruit Ed Davis and his St. Benedictine squad. Boatwright hasn't even played a high school game yet. Nobody knows his talent level yet, meaning he could absolutely suck at the next level. What is Tim Floyd going to do then? A few years ago, Davon Jefferson was one of the most-hyped recruits in the class of '07. This year, he barely gets a mention as a member of USC's incoming freshman class that includes O.J. Mayo.
Decrease in interest
Tar Heel fans may be elated now at the news of Marshall's commitment, but that excitement will most likely wane throughout the coming years. Kendall Marshall won't touch the Dean Dome floor (that's, of course, if he doesn't go back on his verbal commitment) until the fall of 2010. The new U.S. president will be a year and a half into his/her presidency by then. I'll be five years away from 30. Long time. Not to mention that Drew, Jr. might still be in a Tar Heel uniform by that time, playing the same position as Marshall.
It seemed like it took forever for the hoops world to see Mayo in a college uniform, though we all believed he would never wear one. I'm going to take one big nap and hopefully when I wake up, Jennings will be in Tuscon playing for the Wildcats.
We live in a shortsighted world that has an extremely stunted memory when it comes to "hot" things. One day, somebody is the "next great thing", and the next day he is replaced by the "next next great thing". It's just how it is.
Even the argument that "picking a college early is good because kids can get it out the way" is flawed. If every major university wants you when you're a scrawny 15-year-old kid, they should be all over you when you're 17-18 and your game has progressed. On the same note, if a kid is good as a freshman in high school, why not wait until he has gotten older and significantly better to offer a scholarship to him as a junior. Minimize the risk, why don't ya?
In the end, though, you can't really blame the kid for simply taking advantage of coaches' haste to get a leg up on the competition. It's like they're 21 year-old men recruiting wives as skinny, flat-chested 14 year-olds and hoping they morph into Beyonce in four years. Could happen, most likely won't, and you may ruin a kid's future before it actually starts.
Now if you excuse me, I have to help my 11 year-old brother pick out courses for freshman year at Texas.